Jay C. Brandriet
My uncle Ron passed away peacefully in his Watertown, South Dakota home today.
A well-deserved rest for one of the most unique, kind men I’ve ever met.
Ron was married to my dad’s sister, my aunt Laurie Brandriet Keller.
I first met him when I was five years old.
He visited my brother Justin in the NICU in Salt Lake City.
He adored Laurie and seemed like a pro at being her husband.
I partied with Ron. He told me about living his dreams, regrets, and the serious pride he took in his children’s life stories.
The connection he had to his brother Bill really hit home with me.
He always had a deep care for my cousin Catherine and her kids.
His opinions of my mother Lois made him one of her biggest fans.
Uncle Ron treated his pets like family.
He was a geologist. He was so passionate and knowledgeable about his craft; you couldn’t help but enjoy listening. He made rocks cool.
Sometimes, the smartest guy in the room wants to let you know he’s there. Not Ron. He was secure about what he knew.
He was like the mature, settled down version of Indiana Jones.
Ron was a big-time fan of college football’s Florida Gators.
The four athletes I associate with him are Hakeem Olajuwon, Warren Moon, Earl Campbell, and of course Tim Tebow.
I was with him during one of my favorite basketball games ever…Game 5 of the 2009 NBA Finals.
We were at his house during the 2010 NBA All-Star game. We were sitting down for dinner, but I really wanted to focus on the television. I asked Ron if I could pause his DVR.
I mention this, because I have solid boundaries when it comes to taking charge of someone’s remote control.
It’s not that he predictably said yes, it’s that I had no problem asking.
Ron had a gift of making people feel comfortable.
When I was younger, he let me use his car a couple of times.
Once before leaving town, I gave him twenty dollars for the gas.
He brought that up to me a decade later, and somehow made me feel great.
MY FAVORITE MOMENT WITH HIM
It was 2013. My grandma Shirley was becoming fragile. She was living with Laurie and Ron.
There was a group of us in the living room chatting away. My grandma was sitting in a recliner, and I came to say goodbye for the night. We had a nice 10- or 12-minute conversation.
Ron had just been hanging out in the background.
As we were heading out, he pulled me aside.
He said, “I just want to thank you for speaking with your grandmother that way. She is struggling to hear, and often gets left out. You talking up close to her ears like that and helping her feel a part of things is so important for her spirts. We all need that kind of respect.”
I wasn’t impressed with me.
That observant, empathetic nature was a moment I would not forget.
SOAKED THINGS IN
We were sitting at Laurie’s dining room table. The family felt there was something I should do. It was a heavy topic, and I did not fully agree with them. It was three against one. This went on for an hour. Ron hardly said a word.
Things quieted down. He then goes, “hidden behind the intensity, Jay’s thought this out and clearly knows how he feels. I don’t think you guys are hearing him.”
It’s not that he agreed with me. It was just this calm, measured quality he had. He made his words count.
He was also selective in how he gossiped. If there was an objective, fair angle, he was going to find it.
HE CAME TO MY PLACE TO VISIT
Two years ago, my aunt and uncle came out to see us in Utah. It was a memorable weekend.
Ron had a boot on his foot and was starting to slow down physically.
My wife Emi felt so comfortable when she was in his home.
We were excited to make him feel the same at our place.
We gave him a few choices of where to sleep/shower etc.
He picked a small bathroom downstairs.
He goes, “this one’s perfect. It’s big enough for me to move around in, but small enough to catch me if I fall.”
The night before they left, he and I took a short walk with Emi.
We were headed back in the house. Ron was unsteady. I was close behind him like a capable caregiver, without letting him notice me. He stopped to look at some rose bushes.
He noticed the details, the colors of the petals, and the smells. He mentioned the history of some of the surrounding plants. He was so patient and grateful of the beauty in front of him. I was super aware of the way he was behaving and took note of it. He was experiencing the life, hidden behind life.
THE REFLECTION ON MY AUNT LAURIE
My aunt Laurie has many special attributes. She’s got the smarts, heart, and the looks. Her social skills gave me an aim as a child.
They say we are the sum of the five people we spend the most time with.
The best reflection of Laurie’s quality life is that Ron was her partner.
Love you Ron!!
Jay C. Brandriet